Research interests

I am currently interested in the following lines of research:

1. Causal Reasoning & Causal Explanations:

Broadly, my first line of research focuses on the cultural evolution, transmission, and development of causal explanatory systems (e.g., across generations, parent-to-child), with the current emphasis on the causes and treatments of biological illnesses. Some of my questions include:

  1. How does language shape concept development of illness?

  2. ​How do children learn from the verbal or written testimony others provide them regarding illness?

  3. Who are the social partners (e.g., parents, siblings, friends) children learn about illness from, and how does this change across development?

  4. What are the broader communities children learn about illness from (e.g., home, school, medical community, religious community)

Right now I am conducting this line of research in three cultures: the US, Colombia, and Mauritius.

Riverside, California, USA

Bilingual (Spanish-English)

Mexican-American Catholics

Medellín, colombia











Spanish-Speaking Catholics

(In collaboration with Laura Posada)


Creole-Speaking (English-French) Hindus

(In collaboration with Dr. Aiyana Willard)

2. Development of religious cognition:

My other main line of research examines the role of the sociocultural context in the development of religious cognition and beliefs in early childhood through adulthood. A few of the questions that I am interested in include:

  1. How do children and adults conceptualize the 'soul'? How is this conceptualization related to one's afterlife beliefs (e.g., Can Tom miss his mom after he dies?)?

  2. What types of humanlike (i.e., anthropomorphic) constraints do children and adults place on God/Allah (e.g., Can God have a pretend friend?)?

  3. Do children and adults think God/Allah can make the impossible, possible? Or does God/Allah make the impossible merely improbably?


I began this line of work as an undergraduate in 2011, working with Dr. Laird Edman at Northwestern College. Now, since joining the Childhood Cognition Lab in 2014, together with Dr. Richert and other members of my lab, I currently analyze this line of research through a longitudinal study (PI: Dr. Rebekah Richert) with families from four communities in Southern California:

                                      Roman Catholic

  Protestant Christian           

                          Religiously Non-Affiliated / None


The study broadly encompasses parents' and children's understanding of concepts of God and prayer, fantasy/reality distinction, possibility judgments, causal reasoning, and rituals. We examine how these religious concepts develop and change during the preschool years as a function of children's social-cognitive skills and religious exposure as well as their parents' own beliefs and practices.

Mom Reading a Book to her Daughter
crossing cultures 2
Girls Praying
Girl Praying


My dissertation focuses on how the cultural context shapes the emergence of explanatory systems and causal reasoning in early childhood in two populations: Mexican-American Catholics and Colombian Catholics. Specifically, I am examining the causal mechanisms (folk, scientific, religious, supernatural, moral) 3.5- to 6-year-old children and their parents attribute to the causes and treatments of biological illnesses, their reasons for endorsing those causes, and parents’ ethnotheories and approaches to explaining the causes of illness to their children. The driving questions are:

  1. Do individuals judge religious supernatural causes as working in parallel with folk, scientific, or other supernatural causes? If so, in what ways?

  2. How does child’s age, cognitive skills, and religious exposure moderate children's co-existing causal reasoning?

  3. How does language itself (Spanish or English) affect children’s concepts of causality?

© 2019 Kirsten A. Lesage. All rights reserved.